Gym dandy to the rescue 

Exercises in self-image

I've belonged to the same gym, Peachtree Center Athletic Club, about 10 years, maybe longer. It's a deluxe place with lots of amenities on top of the parking garage for Peachtree Center. You can work out, play basketball, run, swim, tan, get a massage and facial, even eat Middle Eastern food there.

Recently, I decided to get a second gym membership. Since I spend so much time at the Ansley Starbucks trying to write my disserfuckingtation, I thought it would be convenient to join the new LA Fitness there. It costs far less than my other club and, though it lacks cushy amenities, it has much better equipment.

Of course, in making this decision I didn't account for one profound difference in the two clubs. The average age at Peachtree Center is surely near 40, whereas the average age at LA has to be 25. You get classic rock at Peachtree Center. You get Shakira remixes at LA Fitness. You get the smell of Icy Hot at Peachtree Center. You get warning signs about steroids at LA Fitness.

In 25 years, I've never worried about the way I dressed for the gym. But, as I was headed into LA after a few hours of writing last week, a friend stopped me. "You're not going in there in those shoes, are you?" he asked me with that worried look the fashion police get.

"Huh?" I said. "I love these shoes. They're Asics. They've been really good to my feet, great arch and heel support."

"Oh," he said. "Your arches! But how long have you owned them?"

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe two years. I don't wear them every day."

"I should hope not," he said. "They are very out of style."

I stifled a gasp. "Is my shirt OK?" I asked. "I know these track pants are in style."

"The pants are fine. The shirt is iffy. Do you really like that color? I don't think it's particularly good with your skin tone."

Of course, I fairly slinked into the gym. All eyes of the 23-year-olds in their string tank tops and itty bitty shorts were on my archaic shoes and sallow complexion, I was sure. Also, I felt naked without an MP3 player strapped to my bicep. At least I didn't have to worry about seeing my reflection in mirrored walls since there were so many other guys preening before them. As I did bench presses, I expected someone to set an oxygen tank and defibrillation paddles by the bench, just in case.

The next day, I wore my red Rod Laver Adidas. "Too gay," my friend snapped.

"Hello?" I said.

"I know," he said, "but some things are too gay even for the gay."

The next day we went shoe shopping. Every pair I picked up prompted him to roll his eyes. "Stop looking at the prices!" he barked. Finally, I was allowed to purchase a pair of New Balance shoes. They were on sale, which offended him because it meant they were not completely courant, but he felt better about me.

Now that I had the right shoes, or nearly so, I could hold my head up a little higher. But I encountered other differences.

For example, in the fortysomething world of Peachtree Center, someone might compliment me by saying that I looked like I'd lost weight. My annoyed response would always be, "You saying I need to lose weight?"

"Oh no," they'd respond, "just noticing."

On the other hand, at LA Fitness, a young wraith asked me, "How did you get so big?"

"Excuse me?" I asked, horrified. "Are you saying I need to lose weight?"

"No, I just wondered how you got so big. You look great," he said.

"Uh," I stammered, looking around for the hidden camera. "I think it's genetics, aging and working as a dining critic. Try eating a lot of atrocious food."

"Cool!" he said.

"Way!" I responded, rushing over to the scale, which is far too publicly in view.

Another difference: At Peachtree Center, there are curtains on each shower stall. Am I prudish? I don't get showering as performance. While I was stark naked and lathering myself with my very special Armani shower gel, someone got in the shower across from me and started a conversation.

"Hey, what's up, man, long time no see."

This happens to me a lot because I apparently have Alzheimer's. I don't have any clue who half the people who greet me are. This is particularly disconcerting while naked.

"Doing good, what's up with you?" I replied, clueless and unclear where to fix my gaze. I wanted to turn my back, but who wants to display his naked butt to someone in conversation?

"I've been great," he said. "Liking this gym?"

"Sure," I replied. "I'm just a bit disoriented."

He laughed. "You've always been that way."

Honestly, I'm gonna give up exercise. It's too damaging to my self-image.


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